Updated: Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)

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The beautiful arched bridge at Songgwangsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple, which means Spreading Pine Temple, in English, sits on the western slope of Mt. Jogyesan, in Jogyesan Provincial Park. Songgwangsa Temple was first constructed at the end of the Silla Dynasty in the late 1100’s.  Bojo Guksa (1158-1210), otherwise known as Jinul, built the temple as a centre for furthering Buddhism studies. As one of the three treasure temples, Songgwangsa Temple represents the seung (monk). In 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism, and it was also made an international meditation centre.

You first approach the temple up a long winding path that intersects some beautiful pine and cedar trees. This 15 minute walk that neighbours the Sinpyeong stream will take you past a beautiful wooden bridge and an artificial pond that is cloaked in colourful paper lanterns. You’ll know that you’re getting closer to the temple grounds when you come across a field of budos dedicated to former monks at Songgwangsa Temple.

Just to the left of the ancient Bulimun Gate is one of the most picturesque entrances to a Korean Buddhist temple in all of Korea. Protruding out of the Sinpyeong stream is a temple building, as well as the Woohwa-gak pavilion that spans the width of the stream. The mirror-like surface of the stream coupled with the dragon-based bridge make for quite the photo-op.

Having passed through the Woohwa-gak pavilion, you’ll make your way through the Cheonwangmun Gate with the Four Heavenly Kings inside. These recently refurbished statues make for quite the welcoming committee at the temple. It’s only after circumnavigating the Jonggo-ru Pavilion, which also acts as the temple’s bell pavilion on the second story, that you finally enter the main temple courtyard at Songgwangsa Temple.

Straight ahead is the beautiful Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Songgwangsa Temple. This massive main hall is beautifully packed with Buddhist artistry both inside and out. The wooden latticework is second-to-none, as are the various Buddhist themed murals like the one dedicated to Wonhyo’s awakening. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, are seven golden statues. Sitting in the centre of the set is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of this triad is Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And to the left sit Yeondeung-bul (The Past Buddha) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

The other buildings you can enjoy to the right of the main hall, and open to the public, are the Jijang-jeon, Yeongsan-jeon, and the Yaksa-jeon. Both the Yeongsan-jeon and the Yaksa-jeon are extremely small in size. While the Yaksa-jeon is dedicated to the Buddha of Medicine, the Yeongsan-jeon is a hall dedicated to eight paintings from the Buddha’s life. As for the Jijang-jeon, this cavernously wide hall houses a green-haired seated statue of Jijang-bosal, as well as the Ten Kings of the Underworld. As for the murals that adorn this hall’s exterior walls, they are amazing in their masterful beauty.

As for the buildings to the left of the main hall, there’s the beautiful Seungbo-jeon, which is the very embodiment of the “seung” aspect that Songgwangsa Temple stands for as a treasure temple. The exterior walls are beautifully adorned with some amazing renderings of the Ox-Herding murals. Sitting inside this hall are row upon row of smaller sized golden monk statues. As for the main altar inside this hall, there sits a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).

In total, and rather remarkably, there have been some 16 national masters that had once studied at Songgwangsa Temple. In fact, the first of these, Jinul, has a budo dedicated to him behind the Gwaneeum-jeon. This budo dates back to 1213, and you get a commanding view of the more than 50 buildings at Songgwangsa Temple. As for the Gwaneeum-jeon hall itself, it’s beautifully surrounded on all sides by lush gardens. Sitting inside this hall is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal sitting all alone on the main altar. She is surrounded on all sides by beautiful murals, as well as a dragon altar that completely engulfs her.

Admission to the temple is 3,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE:  From Suncheon, there is city bus #111 or an intercity bus from Suncheon to Songgwangsa Temple. Both are roughly 3,000 won. Also, from Jeonju, you can take local bus #806, #814 or #838 to Songgwangsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING:  9/10. Songgwangsa Temple is beautifully situated in the mountain folds of Mt. Jogyesan. Its beautiful entry that spans the Sinpyeong stream with its dragon-based bridge is a feat of Buddhist artistry. With its numerous halls like the massive Daeungbo-jeon and Seungbo-jeon, Songgwangsa Temple has a little of everything for everyone.

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The beautiful trail that leads to Songgwangsa Temple.
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The Bulimun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.
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The gorgeous covered arch bridge and stream that flows down from the Jogye-San Mountains.
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As I promised, one of the greatest views within a temple grounds.
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A look under the dragon-based bridge.
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A view from inside the bridge.
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And a view outside.
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One of the four guardians of Songgwangsa Temple that you have to pass to get to the temple’s courtyard.
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The Jonggo-ru Pavilion.
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The main hall at Songgwangsa Temple.
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Wonhyo’s enlightenment.
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A look inside the Daeungbo-jeon at the main altar.
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The amazing view behind the main hall.
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A look inside the Jijang-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.
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A look inside the Seungbo-jeon Hall.
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The Gwaneum-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.
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A look inside the Gwaneum-jeon.
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The stairway that leads up to Jinul’s stupa.

15 thoughts on “Updated: Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)

  1. If I may offer an opinion (and don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the amount of work that goes into this blog), given the significance of this temple as the Sangha Jewel Monastery of the three temple jewels , I think it would be worth mentioning the Sungbojeon (Hall of 1,250 Buddhist priests, the one with the Ox Herding paintings). It is basically this hall that represents the sangha.

    Also, up the stairs behind the Gwaneumjeon is the Gamlo tap, the pagoda built for Bojo Guk Sa just after he passed away. There’s a great view of the whole complex from up there, too.

    • Hello Joseph,

      Thanks for the advice. I’ve been thinking about updating a few of the temples that were first published back in 2011. Songgwangsa Temple is one of these temples. Since revisiting the temple a couple of times, I’ve definitely gotten a better understanding and appreciation for Songgwangsa Temple. So stay tuned, and hopefully I’ll have a few of these updated in the not too distant future. With running the blog on my own, and updating it weekly, it can be a bit much for just one person. But I will definitely take your comments to heart and hopefully update a few of the older entries with newer pictures and write-ups.

      Thanks again,

      Dale

  2. How can you tell the Buddha in the middle is Birojana? (I guess you can tell Jijang-bosal on the end by his staff, even though his hair is covered up, right?)
    How often are there signs outside the halls identifying the statues? I think I might have trouble with some of these.

    • It’s not all that common for the various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to have signs outside the halls identifying them. However, in larger halls, they tend to have them; whereas at smaller temples and hermitages, they tend not to have them.

      And you’re right about Jijang-bosal on the end. As for how I identifying Birojana-bul, I wrote an entire article about this Buddha: http://koreantemples.com/?p=176

      • That’s why I was wondering, because he isn’t doing any of the mudras that you describe. Is it because of the name of the hall, that you just know it’s going to be Birojana in the middle?

        • The thing that I’m having the most trouble with right now is telling the 제화갈라보살–석가모니불–미륵보살 trio from the 보현보산–석가모니불–문수보살 trio. There are pictures where they look very similar.

          • Yes, they are extremely similar. The best way to tell them apart is where they’re located. Usually a building will give this away. 제화갈라보살–석가모니불–미륵보살 typically appear in a Nahan-jeon Hall, while 보현보산–석가모니불–문수보살 typically appear in the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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